Utopian Socialism

During the late 18th century and early 19th century, an ideological phenomenon arose known today as “utopian socialism.” This label, given by Karl Marx, denotes a certain type of socialism in which its proponents attempt to organize society down to every last detail. Karl Marx was highly skeptical of these “utopians,” believing that socialism would occur as a result of the natural progression of time, not as a product of a social engineer’s fancy. The extent of the planning involved in the utopian socialist’s thought is probably best illustrated by examining the ideas of one of the most prominent and radical utopian socialists, Charles Fourier.

Fourier (1771-1837) had a set of extremely categorical descriptions of mankind by which he organized society as a whole. He posited that there exist 12 basic human passions, combining in various ways to form 810 personality types. If both sexes are to be taken into account, then 1620 types exist. Therefore, Fourier says, an ideal human community would contain exactly 1620 people. This community would have a system of organized production, children would be raised in common, meals would be shared in a communal kitchen, etc. Everything would be perfectly planned in order for society to run perfectly.

Fourier would go on to say that each society goes through a number of stages, beginning with confusion and ending with bliss. This state of bliss would last 8000 years before the cycle began again. During bliss, the moon would be replaced by six other moons, human lifespan would increase to 144 years, and other preposterous developments. Finally, Fourier would go off the deep end and proclaim that all animals would replace themselves with their opposites; the chicken would be replaced with an anti-chicken that would roast itself, and the anti-lion would come onto the scene and allow people to ride it. Also, in what seems to be a fit of utter insanity, Fourier divined that the oceans would spontaneously replace their salt with lemonade. Believe it or not, some utopian socialist communities based on his ideas were attempted in North America, but unsurprisingly none of them lasted longer than two years.

The main idea of utopian socialism, as opposed to regular socialism, is that a perfect society can be thought up, organized, and established, running more smoothly than any other existing institution. These two systems, while seeming somewhat similar, are actually quite opposed. Regular Marxist socialism simply says that it will inevitably come to pass that socialism will overtake the world without the need of human intervention, while utopian socialism attempts to plan society according to very precise details.


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